The very first Academy Awards were held on May 16th, 1929, hosted by Douglas Fairbanks, and cost five dollars to attend. The clip above is footage from the 1938 Oscars, showing Louis B. Mayer, Luise Rainer, Mack Sennett, Leo McCarey, W.C. Fields, Jack Warner and Cecil B. DeMille, among others. A lot has changed since; heck, a lot had changed even in those ten years. The time has come to assess just what we’ve been through since those early days. Which Best Picture winner was the best of each decade – and which one was the worst?
I should add that none of the “worst” films here are actually bad… it’s just that they didn’t deserve the crown that was put on their heads.
The 1920s only had two Best Picture winners, Wings and The Broadway Melody, neither of which is particularly memorable.
- BEST: Gone With the Wind (1939). Predictable win, but the most impressive of this decade’s winners.
- WORST: Cimarron (1931). An Edna Ferber story that has been overshadowed by Giant (1956) in particular.
- BEST: Casablanca (1942). No one really believed in it from the beginning, but it turned out to be quite the juggernaut – and an everlasting classic.
- WORST: Gentleman’s Agreement (1947). Well-meaning story about being a Jew in America after the war.
- BEST: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Most would probably pick On the Waterfront; this was an impressive decade of Oscar winners.
- WORST: The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). Cecil B. DeMille joins the circus.
- BEST: Lawrence of Arabia (1962). One of my top ten.
- WORST: Tom Jones (1963). Not a bad movie but pales in comparison with all the other winners. A very strong decade.
- BEST: The Godfather (1972). Also one of my top ten.
- WORST: The Sting (1973). A great movie, I know. But the 70s had outstanding Best Picture winners.
- BEST: Amadeus (1984). Tough call between this and Terms of Endearment, the only five-star winners of the decade.
- WORST: So many candidates… I’l have to pick Out of Africa (1985).
- BEST: Schindler’s List (1993). Steven Spielberg’s most personal film and a complete masterpiece.
- WORST: Shakespeare in Love (1998). I happen to think that this is a great movie. But it did not deserve a Best Picture Oscar.
- BEST: No Country for Old Men (2007). One of the Coen brothers’ finest films.
- WORST: Crash (2005). As in the case of Gentleman’s Agreement, well-meaning but not great.
- BEST: Parasite (2019). The most surprising selection of the decade was also the finest.
- WORST: Green Book (2018). Unfairly maligned by some critics, it did nonetheless stand apart as the most obviously inferior Best Picture choice of the decade.
As for the current decade… I’ll get back to you.